There is so much to go for here that I’m bound to overlook someone’s heroics and mortally offend them. Did Mike Harris run?
Despite putting this fixture back by two weeks from the previous year, the weather still failed to deliver. Chris Burgess was dreaming of mud and had been doing a rain dance for the week leading up to the race. The debutants must have thought that tales of snow laden fields, driving rain, gale force winds, tents which refused to be pegged down, knee deep mud, were exactly that. The build up to the first cross country of the year had actually involved a lot of reassurance that this course was an excellent one on which to cut your teeth. Really only a glorified trail race with the biggest hill being the camber round one of the golf course greens, it has the disadvantage of allowing you to run hard all the way round.
There were several juniors races before the senior events took place, and the Harriers had an excellent turnout. A remarkable 21 young athletes turned out to represent the club. Well done to Lewis Bryers, Emily Edwards, Alice Singleton, Louisa Stuart, Luke Hunter, Charlotte Edwards, Emily Hunter, Sarah Elsden, Lara Wilson, Shauna Marrow, Annabel Stuart, Sam Bryers, Charlotte Newsham, Alice Rowe, Rebecca Jones, Katrina Dean, Grace Walters, Olivia Smith, Sophie Elsden, Lauren Wheatley, Aimee Taylor. What was particularly pleasing was the number of girls running, with team places in both the Under 13s, for which we had 6 runners, and the Under 15s, with 9 runners. The future is bright, the future is Red and Black.
As always seems to be the case, there was a vest crisis on the morning of the race. Texts, Facebook messages and phone calls were all made trying to locate the “Upside Down Smiley Face” vest. This year’s proud wearer was to be Abraham …. Fortunately for him, the vest didn’t appear and he had to settle instead for a loan from Andy Eccles, who had to withdraw when he went down with a heavy cold a few days before the race – glad to hear that you didn’t paint a ceiling while recovering Andy!
The tent arrived in plenty time but without the dib, dib, dibbing Nina Fisher and Colin McEvoy, we nearly managed to rip it further by trying to erect it upside down. Mistake realised, and with not a hint of wind or rain to make us pay for our error, the canvas was up, numbers were pinned on vests and we started to think about the race. In the men’s camp, Dave Waddy tried a bit of crafty pre-race tactics by telling us that the men’s race was just two big laps. “Are you sure Dave?” As the ladies were doing their final warm-ups before heading for the start line, we decided that it might be a good idea to do a recce and show the new runners the course. What a good decision that turned out to be because for some reason the organisers had decided to introduce an extra loop. Perhaps DW was right after all and this meant that we did only have two big laps to do? A quick detour to check at Race HQ confirmed that it was three laps and DW’s cunning plan had come to nothing!
By now the ladies were well underway and a stream of Harriers came by on their first lap. Danielle Thomson was having a great run at this point, just ahead of the very focussed Tracey Dutton. Karen Schofield was working as hard as ever, while Cat D’Ascendis, resplendent in her colourful spikes, appeared very composed. Kelly-Anne Towns was looking relaxed, Karen Jones was complaining that she was struggling, despite looking smooth, while debutant Annemarie Craven seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the whole experience – note to coaches – must run harder . Mel Wane has written her name into Harriers cross-country folklore after her impromptu debut in the Arctic conditions of Knowsley two winters ago. How good it was to see her back competing again.
The longer second lap for the ladies saw some of the positions change, the finishing order being Tracey, Danielle, Cat, Kelly-Anne (only a minute between these 4), Karen Schofield, Karen Jones, Annemarie and Mel. Mel epitomised the determination of the whole group, as despite being towards the back of the field, she gave everything in a sprint finish against a Darwen Dasher. Brilliant stuff! The ladies team finished 12th out of 16, and the ladies vets 11th out of 14.
As the first of the ladies trickled back to the tent, I worryingly heard Tracey say that their course had been 3.5 miles. It definitely said 5K on the map, with the men’s race being 10K. So how long was our race going to be?! Certainly longer than Chris Green had planned for, because he was expecting 5K. He must have been listening to Waddy.
An impressive 14 men (not 14 impressive men!) took to the start line and on the gun launched into a suicidal sprint of two laps of the field. At this point there is still enough breath in the lungs for there to be plenty of banter. That died down fairly quickly and we settled into the first of the extended laps. From a runner’s perspective, you only really see the race that unfolds around you, and so I spent most of my race watching Colin McEvoy and Chris Burgess jockey for position. Chris was unnerved, as always, by Colin’s Vibrams, and I’m sure he only stayed with him to work out how Colin managed to run through the odd muddy bits that were on offer. There was plenty support around the course from the recovering ladies team, and this was very much appreciated. Take the plaudits but keep focussed, avoid eye contact, appear to be working hard. Exception – if anyone cares to look at the official photos they will see Steve Bayliss’s wave of shame – come on Steve you should know better than to get caught on camera.
There were so many Harriers in the race that as you received your encouragement from the support, you immediately started listening for the next shout to gauge who was on your shoulder. To my disquiet, I heard a “Come on Mike, Dave’s just ahead” from Becky. What I’d missed was Erica’s cry of “Naughty Dave, he stole my sweets” – don’t ask! Once you got your head around the extended lap, and actually enjoyed the bit of mud that the section brought, it was easy to settle into a rhythm. Nina and Tim had positioned themselves just before the final turn, and it was a great feeling to run past them for the last time. I should also mention that I ran past the much younger Chris Burgess at this point – if you take the trouble to write the report, you can blow your own trumpet.
Andy Kaufman took his customary first Harrier home position, despite running the York marathon the following day. Abraham showed his potential by finishing only a minute behind Andy, but well ahead of Colin, Dave Collins and Chris Burgess. There was then a steady procession of Harriers as Dave Waddington and Mike Harris came home, followed by cross country debutants Steve Bayliss, Paul Mason (Maz) and Stuart Towns. The returning to fitness Gary Wane and Paul Bryers were next, while another first timer Chris Green was preparing to admonish me for telling him it was 10K when it was much closer to 11. Mike Dutton admitted to struggling with the extra distance after his recent impressive park runs, but still completed the course. The senior men were 10th out of 18 teams and the vets 10th out of 17. It was good of Tim and Nina to point out on Facebook later that this was a good performance from the reserves. Both these A teamers should be available for the next fixture so we should do really well then!
As is customary before taking the tent down, we had a minimalistic cool down, then went in search of Tracey’s muffins. Unfortunately she had gone to the dogs (literally – greyhound meeting) but Colin stepped in with some excellent Bakewell tarts. This boy should be on the Great British Bake Off.
Tremendous start to the cross country season. According to my count we had 43 runners at Leigh. Spikes off to everyone and get yourselves ready for the next Mid Lancs fixture at Hyndburn on October 25th. It’s usually mud city, so can’t see Cat’s spikes looking quite so bright after that.